Why cervical cancer isn’t just an issue for women
In the UK just under 1000 women die from cervical cancer each year, and 3200 new cases of the disease are diagnosed, but cervical cancer isn’t just a women’s issue. Down the line, a cancer diagnosis can have a ripple effect on those closest to you. But right now there are steps we can all take to help men and women prevent cervical cancer, as well as catch it early.
Let us talk you through what cervical cancer is, how we can prevent it and together we can try to reach the NHS’s target of preventing 83% of cervical cancer deaths.
Cervical cancer, what is it and who can get it?
Cervical cancer happens when cells in the neck of the womb (cervix) grow in an uncontrolled way and build up to form a lump (also known as a tumour). As the cancer is of the cervix it can be experienced by women, as well as transgender men who have a cervix.
How do you get cervical cancer?
99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by persistent high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) infections. HPV is spread by males, females, transgender and non-binary people, explaining why cervical cancer isn’t just a women’s issue. It is spread by:
- Skin on skin contact through vaginal, anal or oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Touching on the genital area
HPV can also cause genital warts and other forms of cancer. Practising safe sex and using condoms can protect against the spread of HPV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.
It is important to remember that HPV is a very common virus. Up to 80% of people in the UK will contract one of the strains of the virus at some point in their life, most people’s bodies can tackle the virus without even knowing.
Cervical cancer symptoms
The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious and for that reason it is sometimes not caught until it is at an advanced stage. It is important to be aware of anything that is not normal for you, but the most common noticeable symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- Bleeding during or after sex
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after the menopause
- Changes to vaginal discharge
Cervical screening in the UK
As we’ve discussed, cervical cancer can be largely symptomless and can therefore go unrecognised until it is too late. For this reason, in the UK all women or transgender men with a cervix aged 25 to 64 are invited to routine cervical screenings. Those aged 25 to 49 will be invited to a screening every three or five years depending on where you live, your ages and your results.
The screenings involve taking a small sample of cells from the cervix and testing these for the presence of HPV strains that cause cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week
Each year mid-late January marks the annual Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which seeks to make as many people as possible (not just women) know how they can reduce the risk of cervical cancer to themselves and those around them.
You can support the charity by attending a fundraising event, donating, raising awareness of the disease or by joining their #SmearForSmear social media campaign. Simply take a picture of something smeared – whether it be lipstick, paint or your lunch – and tag them on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag.
HPV and preventing cervical cancer
As the vast majority of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, vaccinating against this can greatly reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer or other cancers caused by HPV (cancers of the mouth, throat or anus). Since the HPV vaccination programme was released, initially only to girls aged 12-13, the cases of infections of HPV 16 and 18 (2 strains most associated with cervical cancer) significantly decreased.
Some males have benefitted from the female vaccination programme as the population develops herd protection, but this protection has not been extended to men who have sex with men (MSM).
For this reason from September 2019 everyone in either Year 8 or S1 in the UK is offered the Gardasil vaccine to protect them against 4 strains of HPV that are most associated with causing cancer. Gardasil 9 is now being rolled out as part of this programme too. MSM under 45 can also get vaccinated by the NHS at sexual health or HIV clinics.
If you do not fit into either of these groups you can also get vaccinated privately against HPV.
Where can I get vaccinated against HPV privately?
We can prescribe males and females a course of Gardasil 9 vaccinations, protecting you against 9 strains of the virus, including types 16 and 18. After completing an online consultation, our clinicians will check you are safe to have the vaccine and then ask you to arrange a time that best suits you to receive these from your local LloydsPharmacy.